Lithuanian towns can become leaders in renewable energy by becoming climate neutral
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, cities are responsible for 75% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, and cities are being encouraged to switch to more environmentally friendly renewable energy as soon as possible in order to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Lithuanian towns and cities also have the potential to become climate-neutral, but so far there is a lack of initiative, says Urtė Daškevičiūtė, Executive Director of the Lithuanian Wind Power Association (LVEA).
The wind energy boom that has taken place in the country in recent years is not a short-term phenomenon, but a consequent expansion of wind farms under development, says U. Daškevičiūtė.
“Lithuania currently has 660 megawatts (MW) of installed wind power capacity – twice as many as a decade ago. Whereas wind energy development used to be more like a roller coaster ride, we should see steady growth in the near future. Soon we will see growth spikes in the installed capacity statistics, which will only further boost the development of wind energy in the country,” says the LVEA CEO.
Wind energy is today the cheapest source of electricity that cities and towns could switch to. According to U. Daškevičiūtė, the involvement of towns and cities in wind energy development would not only be beneficial for them, but would also help to achieve the goals of Lithuania’s and Europe’s Green Deal.
“If we want to become a green country, we should start with communities switching to renewable energy – towns and cities near wind farms could set themselves the goal of becoming “greener” and using the electricity generated by wind farms. At least one such town would become a model for others, and as more communities join the idea, we would move rapidly towards a green course,” she says.
Could meet electricity demand
According to U. Daškevičiūtė, Head of the LVEA, one of the easiest ways for Lithuanian cities to become climate neutral is to sign Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with the developers of wind farms. This has not been done so far for a number of reasons: lack of incentive, lack of appropriate incentives, and legal barriers.
“By connecting direct grid lines from adjacent wind farms, cities could secure a stable and below-market electricity price for at least 10 years ahead. Small towns will soon be able to fully meet their electricity needs with renewable energy, so such contracts would be of great benefit to local residents,” says U. Daškevičiūtė.
In addition, if wind farms developed close to towns and cities would directly benefit their residents by allowing them to use the electricity generated here, communities’ attitudes towards both wind energy and the green course would change more rapidly, with more local ownership and a more favourable attitude towards the implementation of the green town vision. According to the LVEA Executive Director, the friendship between wind energy and the country’s towns and cities should not only be promoted at the initiative of the towns and cities themselves or the developers of the wind farms, but also at the state level.
For example, between 2015 and 2020, 335 agreements were signed by US cities to buy renewable energy. These agreements have a combined capacity of 8.28 gigawatts (GW), which is twice as much as Lithuania’s total installed electricity generation capacity. 90% of the renewable energy capacity purchased by the cities was purchased under physical PPAs, where a direct grid line is built from the wind farm to the city’s existing electricity “delivery point”. Physical PPAs allow local authorities to purchase energy directly from large projects, which means that these deals can be more cost-effective compared to other purchasing options such as community solar projects or green tariffs. As a result, such contracts are the most popular choice for cities in the US to become climate neutral.
“Promoting such projects would certainly also help Lithuania to achieve the goals of the Energy Independence Strategy. Moreover, investments in wind farms pay off not only in cheaper electricity and lower environmental impact, but also in new jobs, attracted investments and taxes paid to municipal budgets. This is better for everyone – for the towns, their inhabitants and the country as a whole”, explains U. Daškevičiūtė.
The goal of making Lithuanian towns go green is envisaged at least at several levels. The project “Sustainable and Achievable Cities” in the Government’s programme sets the goal of having the first climate-neutral and climate-neutral city in Lithuania by 2030. The initiative is also being pursued by the temporary parliamentary group “Green Municipalities 2030”, established by nine members of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, which has even more ambitious goals – to achieve the status of a green city in the European Union for at least one municipality in Lithuania and at national level for three municipalities by the 2030s.
Lithuania’s targets are part of the European Commission’s unified green strategy. The European Commission’s ambition is to have 100 climate-neutral European cities by 2030. These cities will be Europe’s innovation hubs, which should make it the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Setting an example for Europe
The Strategic Development Plan 2021-2030, adopted at the beginning of 2021, aims to make Tauragė climate-neutral by the end of the decade. According to the Mayor of Tauragė, David Kaminskas, this ambitious goal is the result of six years of intensive work on greening.
“We currently have 24 solar power plants installed on the roofs of public buildings, and next year we plan to renovate another 5 large energy-inefficient buildings. Only a few smaller buildings in the district will remain unrenovated. We are also reforming the city’s public transport, which is free, by increasing the number of electric buses. A few years ago, we modernised our street lighting, replacing old luminaires with LEDs. We are also planning a remote solar power plant, which will provide enough electricity to light part of the streets,” says Kaminskas.
Although Tauragė district has probably the largest wind farm in the country, the city does not buy electricity from it yet, but supports its further development.
“We buy electricity centrally for public institutions, and last time we were not able to choose green electricity, but we will definitely consider a more environmentally friendly option during the next procurement. Indeed, it is up to consumers to decide which electricity to use – the public sector tends to go green, but so do private consumers, who decide on their own electricity supplier. We are pleased that Tauragė residents are actively using the support we provide to install solar power plants and replace heating boilers,” says the Mayor.
According to him, although there was some initial scepticism among residents and politicians when Tauragė started to develop and implement greener initiatives, there is now more support and understanding.
“Some people say that Tauragė will not change the world, but in my opinion we can be a great example for Lithuania and Europe. The growing interest in sustainable development and green energy only confirms that we are on the right track”, says Kaminskas.
According to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an environmental impact assessment organisation, over 100 cities around the world now use at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources.